It takes a lot of internal pep talk for me to gather the willpower to ride my bike the 8km from home to work (don’t judge me - I swear I’m not built for inclines).
So you can imagine how I reacted when I heard about a group of climate heroes from Adventure Cycling Victoria who rode almost 1000 kilometres from Federation Square in Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra to deliver an important message to MPs:
Australia needs to address the elephant in the room and commit to serious action on climate change.
It’s an amazing story of meaningful action that brought together passionate, driven strangers to embark on a journey with a shared purpose. It’s like the Lord of the Rings of climate action.
The best part was the riders were met with the likes of MPs including Senator Janet Rice, Adam Bandt, and even their Member for Cooper, Ged Kearney.
I was lucky to steal some time from Peter, Nathan, and Jaron who embarked on the long ride to hear about their time on the road to Parliament and what they hope for the future.
Maybe you'll even be inspired to join the next Climate Cycle!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you, where have you come from, and what does taking climate action mean to you?
Peter: I’m a 28 year old Melbourne local. I’ve been living in Melbourne my whole life. Currently I work part time in a bike shop and I also run Adventure Cycling Victoria and do freelance writing. And of course I go on bicycle adventures.
Climate action means many things to me, but one important aspect to it is as a statement of values. Do you accept the unjust status quo, or are you going to fight to make things better? What are the values that you live by, and that you represent?
The Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov summed it up beautifully:
“They want us to believe there’s no chance of success. But whether or not there is hope for change is not the question. If you want to be a free person, you don’t stand up for human rights because it will work, but because it is right. We must continue living as decent people.”
2. Why did you get involved in the fight against climate change and how did you get started?
Jaron: I got involved in the fight against climate change because I think it is the most serious issue facing humanity. I noticed not long ago that I was thinking about climate change every day – multiple times every day – and the issue was weighing heavily on my mind.
I found that the sense of generalised worry I had was only alleviated when I took constructive action.
I believe that future generations will look back on the current generations and ask, “What did they do when there was still time to act?" They will judge us, and they will be right to do so. I personally don’t want to be found wanting.
It’s a matter of intergenerational justice. In crises past – take the two world wars as an example – we have rallied together and governments have taken strong collective action. We need to do the same now.
Leaving aside any impact on humanity, I think climate change matters because the natural world has value in and of itself, and should be treated with respect.
My foray into climate action started with individual actions; donating to environmental organisations, reducing my meat intake, installing solar panels on my roof, and of course, switching to a sustainable super investment!
As Bill McKibben has pointed out though, as important as individual actions are, the scale of the problem is such that we need society- and economy-wide action by governments if we are to really make the cuts in greenhouse gases necessary to avert catastrophic warming. So please, get active and write to your local MPs!
3. Where does your passion and motivation come from?
Peter: Well you need to do something with your life, don’t you?
That’s a good question, and there are a many different answers. The most obvious one is that if we don’t take some pretty radical action quite soon, it’s over for human civilisation as it currently stands. It really doesn’t get much more stark than that.
We are staring down the barrel of ecological breakdown on a massive scale, and of course this will translate into social breakdown, the breakdown of governance, and war. In fact we are already in the early stages of this breakdown. It is already upon us. There is no area of life that climate is not relevant to.
Another big part of my motivation is justice. World leaders have been well informed about climate change for decades. For example, the first World Climate Conference was held in 1979.
Since then, our emissions have only ever gone up (and by a lot), whilst leaders have protected the interests of wealthy polluters and betrayed everyday people.
I consider this to be criminally negligent, and leaders who have engaged in this behaviour need to be brought to justice. We also need justice for the people who are—and will be—most affected by climate change. I see climate as a class struggle, and we won’t get anywhere until ordinary people make it their personal business to demand change.
4. What was the driver for starting up Climate Cycle and doing the ride from Melbourne to Canberra?
Peter: I had been involved in some different climate action over a period of time, which was great, but I was starting to think of how I could increase my impact. Because I run a relatively popular cycling website, I thought that I could use that to engage people in the cycling community on this issue and encourage them to take action.
I had (sort of) had this idea for about 10 years, but hadn’t really done anything about it. Now I had the means of reaching many people, and making it a reality. When Nathan showed an interest in it, and was prepared to help me with the grunt work of getting it organised, I decided that the time had come.
Another motivation was just to go on a great bike ride—which it was. I do this kind of thing for fun anyway, so I thought: let’s make it something else as well. That something was all about trying to get people to take the action necessary to create real change. I was sick of hearing things like, “Change your light globes, drive less, eat less meat,” but no mention be made of the larger structural issues that underlie our predicament.
Why does our economic system value profit and growth above all else? Why are our politicians so corrupted by polluting industries? You can’t change these things by switching light globes. Switching light globes is great, but it won’t do much unless we also engage more in politics, economics, ethics, and in our communities. Unless we rise up and demand change from our leaders.
5. What surprised you the most during the ride?
Nathan: Well, this one is a bit embarrassing... I’ve got to admit that I was surprised by the amount of support that we got from everyone we met along the way from Melbourne to Canberra. Or I guess I should say I was surprised by how little discouragement we encountered along the way. Each of our group live in the same pocket of Melbourne, which is one of the most politically progressive areas in the country in general but certainly when it comes to climate change. I had been ready to burst my bubble and face up to the more conservative political areas of regional Victoria and NSW.
Cyclists tend to be resented on the roads by some staunch drivers at the best of times but here were three brazen city-slickers cycling across the country promoting policy that by-in-large affect regional citizens way more than those in most urban areas.
Also we looked a little ridiculous! We had both an inflatable elephant and a stuffed-toy rainbow lorikeet strapped to our bikes and I was flying a ‘Climate Emergency’ flag in tail. I guess in my naivety I had expected that we would meet loads of climate deniers, threatened farmers, and conservative people who would reject our message.
The truth was the opposite. We did meet plenty of local people who worked in farming, tourism, and hospitality but each of them were onboard with our message, concerned for their livelihoods and for others and supportive of us taking our message to politicians.
It was an encouraging reminder that I, too, have been polarised by biased media and that actually most regional people care just as much as me and more about our climate future!
6. How did you find energy and motivation to keep you going?
Jaron: We all have a passion for cycling and are all pretty bike-fit, so finding the energy to keep going each day was not really a problem. We did have a rest day in Bright to recharge, and there were a few mornings when we were fatigued and a little slow to jump back onto the saddle, but any sluggishness we felt was more than outweighed by the amazing natural environment that we were cycling through each day, whether it was the Dandenong Ranges, the Snowy Mountains, or the Namadgi National Park. We also ate a lot of food!
We were also kept motivated by the support from the many locals we spoke to along the way, as well as the climate action pledges that were being made by people following our ride on social media. As a ‘non-charity’ bike ride with a focus on action rather than money, that was very pleasing and kept us motivated to keep going.
Although the plan was to meet with politicians when we reached Canberra, with three days to go it still wasn’t clear whether any politicians would come out to meet us at Parliament House.
When we received news with a few days to go that four parliamentarians had agreed to meet with us, including our own representative Ged Kearney (Member for Cooper), we were super excited and it made for a really exciting last few days of riding as we approached Canberra.
7. What do you hope to achieve by getting more Australians to take action?
Nathan: I think a large part of this ride was to normalise taking drastic actions that reflected the emergency nature of climate change, but also encouraging smaller actions that can directly and collectively contribute to a solution.
Each of us asked our networks to support our ride by pledging actions instead of just money.
I asked people to either host a Climate for Change conversation where they talk about climate change with people they’re close to, or to consider switching their bank accounts or super funds so that they aren’t investing in fossil fuels.
Actions are great. Not only do that have an inherent impact but doing actions is empowering and it’s also contagious. People feel like they are making a difference when they are taking actions rather than just complaining. It also breaks the bystander effect - when you see others doing something about a problem that you share, you join in.
Climate change is a huge problem in scale and it is going to require a huge solution. The ultimate goal as I see it isn’t a few people doing lots but most people doing a little. Each and every action makes a difference but collective action is a change-making force!
8. How can other get involved with Climate Cycle?
Peter: Keep abreast of developments for next year’s ride. We’ll announce things as they come up. Follow our Instagram: climate_cycle_2018 OR sign up to my mailing list at http://www.adventurecyclingvictoria.com
9. If you could send a message to the politicians leading Australia, what would it be?
We need policies that reflect the science. That is, we need an emergency scale response. This is an emergency.
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